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McIntyre: Sylvia Appleton For Women's History Month

One of the highest points in Orange County is Wright’s Mountain, amidst 500 acres of forest and trails in a back corner of Bradford. How this land came to be owned by the town begins with a love story. Sylvia was an 18-year old town girl from Waterbury when she laid eyes on Ernie Appleton and his brand new blue Chevrolet. It was 1948. He was 13 years her senior. They soon married and Sylvia moved to the Appleton’s farm, a remote place that had only recently gotten electricity and was frequently isolated from Bradford village by snow. They shared the home with Ernie’s family, Sylvia cooking and cleaning with her mother-in-law. There was lots of hard work – milking and plowing, gardening, canning, sugaring.

There were also 350 acres and a mountain. Ernie and Sylvia loved the mountain. In the 1960’s they built a little cabin atop a ledge on the mountain where they could look across the valley at the farm and forestland below, and watch hawks ride the currents of air. Ernie made signs to direct visitors to the best views. Townspeople came to treasure the place too.

Sylvia’s grandparents had come from Quebec for work in the Barre quarries; four of her eight siblings had not survived childhood. Her toughness, indomitable spirit, and hospitality to neighbors and family stood out in the life that she made with Ernie in that far corner of Bradford. In 1985, Ernie died of cancer. Throughout his illness, Sylvia had cared for him at home.

Over the years, portions of the Appleton land were sold, but Sylvia was determined that the mountain would remain intact. In 1994, her wish was fulfilled.

The Town of Bradford, the Upper Valley Land Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board came together to conserve the land and bring it into public ownership. For 77 years the Appleton family had cared for the mountain. Now townspeople would take up its stewardship. Sylvia was thrilled. After the acquisition was complete she said, “You can’t describe it. We really wanted it to go this way – for the town to be able to have something like this.”

With the help of generous landowners, volunteers, students and businesses, the public land at Wright’s Mountain has grown. The Conservation Commission sponsors an Annual Race to the Top of Bradford.

Sylvia’s 2002 obituary noted that she “most enjoyed the simple life of being a true Vermonter.”

The simple and powerful gift of a mountain is Sylvia’s legacy for us.

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